Leave It To The Professionals

Posted in IndyCar on June 20, 2018 by Oilpressure

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In the month of June, there have been a couple of incidents take place that have been glossed over with humor but have a serious undertone. On Sunday June 3, GM executive Mark Reuss crashed the IndyCar Pace Car at Belle Isle just after leaving the pits as he was about to lead the twenty-four cars to the green flag for the second of two races in the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit. It was a hard hit but Reuss and his passenger, IndyCar official Mark Sandy, walked away shaken but uninjured.

One week later at the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, Canadian supermodel Winnie Harlow was given the ceremonial task of waving the checkered flag as Sebastian Vettel crossed the line on the final lap. The problem was, the race was scheduled to run for seventy laps. Harlow waved the checkered flag at the end of Lap 69 – one lap early.

In all fairness, Winnie Harlow was not to blame. She was only following directions. Someone across the track from her in Race Control told her to wave it. She only did what she was told. It made no difference, mind you. It just accelerated the inevitable. Vettel led every lap and would have led until the sun went down.

These are different examples that led to a few jokes, but had no dire consequences. But I think they both serve as a warning for the potential for dangers that needlessly exist just so celebrities and/or sponsors can have involvement in real-time racing.

Think about it. Tell me another sport that allows celebrities or non-participants to get involved when a sporting event is live and taking place. I can’t think of one. In baseball, celebrities will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The key word there is ceremonial. It’s a pitch before the game actually starts. There is no batter standing there waiting to smack the ball back at a defenseless celebrity that, more than likely, one-hopped the ball over the plate.

There is often a ceremonial face-off at hockey games, but no one crosschecks the celebrity that drops the puck. Generally, the player from the home team makes a gentle swipe at the puck, then reaches down and hands it to the celebrity.

At NFL games, a local kid is sometimes chosen to run out and get the tee after the whistle has blown after the kickoff. But no players attempt to tackle the kid as he or she is retrieving the tee.

None of these non-participants are ever put in harms way, nor can their presence ever have any type of impact on the game or event.

But in racing; celebrities, dignitaries and sponsor executives are given active roles in live events. Non-qualified drivers are allowed to pace the field to start the race on various tracks. In the case of Mark Reuss, he actually was a qualified driver. He just got unlucky. But do we really think that Victor Oladipo, Guy Fieri, Robin Roberts, Josh Duhamel or Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp are qualified to bring down the field at Indianapolis at speeds well over 100 mph and have something go wrong? Bobby Unser hit a dove on the backstretch in the early seventies, just to give one example as something unexpected that could go wrong.

On at least two occasions that I know of just this past May, track activity had to be halted due to the presence of a goose on the pit lane access roads. It’s not uncommon for rodents or small animals to run out onto the track – and this is just at Indianapolis. There are fifteen other venues on the schedule this season. During a testing incident, Christiano da Matta hit a deer on the track at Road America in 2002. Would an executive from Kohler driving a 700 hp Corvette be able to handle a surprise like that?

And what about those charged with waving the green flag at races? IndyCar doesn’t have celebrities waving the checkered flag like Formula One does, but waving the green flag could prove to be even more problematic.

For about the last fifteen years, Honorary Starters have been utilized to wave the green flag at the start of the Indianapolis 500. There have been notable names like Peyton Manning, Jack Nicholson, Reggie Miller, Sugar Ray Leonard and Patrick Dempsey and less notables like Allen Sirkin, COO of Philips Van Heusen (parent company to IZOD), Michael Peña and Chris Pine. This year’s starter was Chris Hemsworth; who many relate to as Thor, but he’ll always be James Hunt in Rush, to me.

Let’s pick on Hemsworth and use him as an example since he’s the most recent Honorary Starter at the Indianapolis 500 – and one of the few of the recent ones whose name I actually recognize. What would happen if that green flag actually slipped out of his hand and onto the track? It’s an old joke that the only advice to give the starter is not to drop the flag, but what if it actually happened? The results would not be a joking matter.

There is nothing as thrilling or as terrifying as the start of the Indianapolis 500. Just imagine a pack of thirty-three cars screaming towards the green flag at the start of a race. It’s intimidating in normal circumstances. Imagine compounding it with an object falling out of the sky. Visions of the start of the 1966 race come to mind. The drivers in that race were all very lucky and people laugh about that today. With today’s speeds, a melee on the start may not be injury-free as it was over fifty years ago.

These flags are not light, nor are they small. I’ve held one before. They are attached to solid wooden poles, probably 28 to 30 inches long and maybe an inch and a half in diameter. I don’t even want to think about what might happen if a driver got hit in the head by a flag handle at that speed. If that did happen, imagine the pile-up on the main straightaway that would take place behind that driver.

If a dropped flag happen to miss a driver or even a car and managed to get all the way to the track, what might happen if a car ran over it? Would the car lose control. Even if a car hitting the flag maintained control, chances are good that it would be thrown into another car or into the stands.

I have always felt that the potential for something bad happening, far outweighed whatever benefit was gained by having a non-participant handle duties that are normally done by professionals.

In the interest of full disclosure and shameless self-promotion, I have been the personal beneficiary of this practice of allowing normal people do these jobs as a perk. When we went to Fontana for the season-finale in 2013, some very good friends who were hefty sponsors at the time (and who still choose to remain nameless) offered me the opportunity to wave all three flags (green, white and checkered) for Helio Castroneves on his qualifying run, because they knew I was a big Helio fan. Who would turn down something like that?

I signed the required wavers that protected IndyCar in case I got injured doing this, but I don’t know that there was anything I signed in case I did something stupid…like dropping the flag. I was given instructions on holding the flag up high as the car is in Turn Four, how to wave the flag in a figure-8 motion and…don’t drop the flag! (Thanks to Susan for the first photo and to Paul Dalbey for the one with me actually waving the flag)

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I have to say, it was a surreal experience – being in the flag stand over the track when the car is going directly below you. The rush of air that comes through the grated floor as the car passes underneath is impressive, to say the least. Altogether, that was a span of less than five minutes that I’ll never forget and I realize how lucky I am to have gotten to experience something like that.

But does it mean that it’s OK to let people like you and me do things like that? No.

The memory of Eldon Palmer has resurfaced in the last few weeks for all the wrong reasons. For those that don’t know, Palmer was a local Indianapolis-area Dodge dealer that was chosen to drive the Pace Car for the 1971 Indianapolis 500. Being a novice, he was under the mistaken impression that he had to cross the starting line in the pits, ahead of the cars at the start of the race. Prior to the race, he had placed an orange cone in the pits to mark his braking point. Somewhere in the course of the pre-race confusion, someone removed his cone. The result was that he came to the end of the pits going way too fast. As he was approaching the mobile photographer’s stand that had been pulled out to the end of the pits, he veered to the left and slid sideways into the stand.

Luckily, no one was killed but twenty-nine people were injured – a few suffered serious and permanent injuries. Tony Hulman, one of the passengers, sprained his ankle. Chris Schenkel, from the ABC broadcast, was so shaken up he did not return for the remainder of the broadcast.

Donald Davidson goes to great lengths to defend Eldon Palmer whenever a caller asks about him and it is predictably one of those subjects that Donald would prefer to avoid. But it serves as a lesson forty-seven years later of what can go wrong when an unqualified non-professional is given a key role in an event that is dangerous in nature. Again, that’s why no other sport has everyday people taking part in activities once the event has actually started.

I’m not sure who tunes in to a race simply because Robin Roberts or Jim Harbaugh is driving the Pace Car; or that Peyton Manning is waving the green flag at the start. Does it really add any new viewers at all?

Let celebrities prowl along the red carpet. Let them sing in the pre-race ceremonies and even pick one lucky celebrity to ride in the IndyCar two-seater just before the start of the race. But leave the Pace Car duties to Sarah Fisher, Oriol Servia or whoever is on-hand; and make sure that Starter Paul Blevin waves every flag at every race weekend. Otherwise, one of these comical occurrences involving celebrities and non-participants may end up with having dire consequences for IndyCar and/or their drivers.

George Phillips

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Racing Memories With My Father

Posted in IndyCar on June 15, 2018 by Oilpressure

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As we enter the Father’s Day weekend, I wanted to talk about my own father and how he influenced my life and the life of my brothers by taking us to the Indianapolis 500 when we were young.

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IndyCar’s Needlessly Divided House

Posted in IndyCar on June 13, 2018 by Oilpressure

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By Paul Dalbey

Note from George – Disagreements are a good thing, a healthy thing. They prompt discussion and possibly some enlightenment of both sides. Our society is quickly losing the ability to disagree in a civil manner. More times than not, two people not seeing eye-to-eye these days suddenly turn into bitter enemies. That’s a shame.

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Random Thoughts On Texas

Posted in IndyCar on June 11, 2018 by Oilpressure

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Apparently, there were two IndyCar races run at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night. There was the one that I watched and then the one that a lot of other people watched. The race I saw featured a lot of passing, many drivers marching up through the field, the winner himself advancing to win from starting in the fourth row and a lot of gutsy passes made and attempted. Most importantly, I saw a safe race.

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Texas Preview

Posted in IndyCar on June 8, 2018 by Oilpressure

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In less than a week, the Verizon IndyCar Series will go from my least favorite track on the schedule to one of my favorites. The DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway has a chance to be edge of your seat excitement tomorrow night, but there is also the potential that it could be a parade. No one really knows at this point, and if they say they do – they’re lying.

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Two Things I’d Like To See Changed

Posted in IndyCar on June 6, 2018 by Oilpressure

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Nothing in life is perfect. We were all taught that at a young age. None of us are perfect, either. We have many people in our lives reminding us every day just how imperfect we are. That accounts for all of the cheesy motivational posters that adorn many offices and the countless self-help books that are out there. We are told that we are always evolving and tweaking what we do. For someone who abhors change like I do, that’s sometimes hard to swallow.

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Random Thoughts On Belle Isle

Posted in IndyCar on June 4, 2018 by Oilpressure

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Once again, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix has come and gone. Over the years, I’ve made it clear that this is my least favorite stop on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. I’ve piled on enough about this race in the past, so I’ll refrain from any more griping. The series leaves the Motor City without much damage done. Unless you look at Graham Rahal’s wrecked car from Saturday, Josef Newgarden’s championship standings, the front-end of the Pace Car or Pace Car driver Mark Reuss’ ego – most of the series got out of town unscathed.

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